Snooker isn’t even Pankaj Advani’s no.1 sport but he produced an assured performance last night to see off Shaun Murphy 4-3 at the BetVictor Welsh Open in Newport.
The reigning world professional billiards champion played a tactically astute deciding frame to reach the last 16 of a ranking event for the first time.
Snooker, according to legend, was invented in India by British army officers in 1875 as they took shelter during the rainy season. Billiards has always been no.1 there but they now have two dedicated professionals in Advani and Aditya Mehta and there will very likely be a ranking event there next season.
Ten years ago, Ken Doherty beating John Higgins wouldn’t have been a shock but while Higgins remains a top player, Doherty has slipped down the rankings. Therefore, the Irishman’s 4-1 victory yesterday was a surprise.
It’s hard to explain where form goes. Higgins played about as well as he ever has to beat Judd Trump 10-9 from 7-2 down in the Shanghai Masters final last September but has not played as well since. He may still this season but following a first round exit in Berlin is clearly in a bit of a slump.
Sam Baird reached the last 16 of a ranking tournament for the first time with a 4-0 win over Gerard Greene, who seemed to be feeling the pressure of being favourite.
Don’t believe anyone who says psychology doesn’t play a part in snooker. It’s a massive part of the game. All these guys can play but mental fortitude is vital: shutting out self doubt and remaining positive. That’s what Advani did and he reaped the rewards.
Twenty years ago Doherty beat Alan McManus in the Welsh Open final and the Scot duly joined Doherty in the last 16 with a 4-2 win over Barry Hawkins, who missed a straight black to lead 3-1.
Today Trump returns to action against Dominic Dale, who he beat in the first round of both the UK and World Championships last season.
Ding Junhui, the defending champion, faces Mark King, runner-up in the Welsh 16 years ago.
Mark Williams, the only Welshman to win the title, is up against a similarly swift, attacking player in Robert Milkins.
And Mark Selby, the player of the season so far, tackles Joe Perry, who he beat recently at the German Masters.
Another busy day on the green baize beckons, then.